In English, we say, "In like a lion, out like a lamb" when we describe March. In Bulgaria, the traditions around the first of March are more dramatic. Baba Marta, or Granny March, ushers in spring--if she feels like it. She's a cantankerous character, so we need to find ways to please her, so she really will bring in warmer weather and flowers. I was at a school on Friday where Baba Marta came to visit. The elementary school kids had made videos with songs, dances, pictures and chants to please her. If she is, she'll smile and the sun will come out. I read that the last snow of winter is Baba Marta shaking out her feather bed in her spring cleaning.
Bulgarians give each other martenitsi, red and white tasseled bracelets, pins and decorations, to celebrate March 1 and Baba Marta.
Many of these have two figures, a boy and a girl, Pizho and Penda. Starting in the second or third week of February, martenitsi are available from stalls on the streets and in stalls. These days, many are made in China. My favorites are handmade. I bought some from a charity the other day, with lovely felted figures, including a bumblebee, a flower, a lemon wedge. My friend Tzveta and her children make them, just as I used to make Valentines for friends in elementary school. She told her children that only unfortunate people have to buy them. They're given to friends, family and coworkers in the first few days of March but especially March 1, with the phrase "Chestita Baba Marta!"
Here are some on my wrist:
After martenitsi are exchanged, people wear them until they see the first flowers of spring or a stork. Then they hang the martenitsi in a tree or hide them under a rock. Here are some that are still hanging in a tree near my house from last year (I'm guessing):
The red and white are symbolic of health, growth, fertility, good luck and happiness. Children compete to see how many they can collect.
Честита Баба Марта! Chestita Baba Marta, with wishes for health, happiness and luck!
Disclaimer: This is not an official Fulbright Program publication. The views expressed here are entirely my own and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.